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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2593

Senator POWELL(12.36) —by leave-In regard to the Disability Services Bill 1986, I move:

(1) Page 5, paragraph 8 (1) (a), after ``intellectual,'', insert: ``psychiatric,''.

(2) Page 13, paragraph 18 (b) (i), after ``intellectual,'', insert: ``psychiatric,''.

I addressed the major issues concerning these amendments in my speech during the second reading debate. I will reiterate the key issues at this stage and then pick up some of the comments made subsequent to my remarks. In regard to the issue of psychiatric disability, we should be very clear as to what we are talking about. The Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), in his summing up, in referring to my comments quite often used the word `illness'. It is not our suggestion in moving these amendments that it should be in any way construed to be covering psychiatric illness. We recognise, as it has been recognised increasingly over time-I did mention the impact of the International year of the Disabled-that psychiatric disability can exist, and it is in that context that I have moved the amendments. I do not intend that they should in any way encompass psychiatric illness.

I noticed that Senator Sheil at one stage made reference to mental disability. Again, I make it clear that we are talking about psychiatric disability. I do not agree with Senator Sheil, either, that people with psychiatric disabilities make up an enormous number of the people in the community with disabilities. That is perhaps another reason for our insistence on these amendments. It is more a matter of principle than a matter which will be a major impost on government or on programs. Because of the increasing recognition that people can suffer psychiatric disability, we, and the people in the community, believe that psychiatric disability must be recognised, and must be recognised within the context of this legislation. If it is not, it is an exclusion which is against the interests of the sorts of moves that are being made in the area of disability towards integration in the community rather than segregation.

I think it is important that the views expressed on behalf of the Human Rights Commission to the Minister should be placed on the record. The Deputy Chairman stated:

The Commission hopes it will be possible to ensure that those suffering from psychiatric disabilities are included within the ambit of your welcome new proposals for services for people with disabilities.

I would be disturbed if I am correct in understanding that the Minister said that he believes there is something of a band wagon effect here in respect of medical practitioners. They are not my colleagues; they are his. He did seem to suggest that, following the International Year of the Disabled and the increasing recognition of psychiatric disability, the attraction of more money being available might cause people to grasp after classification as being psychiatrically disabled. I do not wish to question the integrity of medical practitioners in that context but I will say that there is obviously a fine line between illness and disability. That does not just apply in the case of people with psychiatric problems. A great deal of medication and medical care is given to people with a number of disabilities. Certainly, it is a fine line and it is one which I would not want to see exploited in any way at all.

I certainly do not believe and do not want it to be thought that, in moving these amendments, the Australian Democrats are trying in any way to open up a floodgate. We are very concerned about the justice of the issue and we are very concerned that a group of people should not be excluded from this type of legislation. We believe, too, that the principles, the objectives and the process that took place leading up to this legislation really behoves us to make sure that this group is included. I am very pleased that these amendments are jointly supported by the Opposition and are so gracefully received by the Minister.